HC Deb 01 February 1979 vol 961 cc1686-703
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President to state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Vaccine Damage Payments Bill.

TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY—Supply [6th alloted day]. There will be a debate on the disruption of the education services, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at Seven o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill.

THURSDAY 8 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Crown Agents Bill.

FRIDAY 9 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 12 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Credit Unions Bill.

Motion on EEC documents R/3185/78, R/3089/78, R/3090/78, R/3146/78, and R/3093/78 on the Communities budget.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to put three points to the Leader of the House. This is yet another week in which the right hon. Gentleman has failed to provide a day for hon. Members to discuss current disputes as they affect their constituencies. We all know from the many questions that have been asked that many hon. Members wish to have more time available to them properly to bring before Ministers the full effects of strikes on hospitals, schools or otherwise, and the lives of their constituents. Will he please provide a day? We have a half Supply day only and we are giving it for that purpose, but not once since Christmas have the Government provided a day.

Secondly, the EEC documents on the Communities budget are extremely important and will require at least a half day to discuss. I take it that it is the right hon. Gentleman's purpose to provide that half day and that, should the Second Reading of the Credit Unions Bill continue for longer than expected, he will provide extra time so that we shall have a full half day to discuss the Communities budget.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman will know that there have been various statements today about the future of our defence contracts with Iran. Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement on that important subject?

Mr. Foot

I shall take the three matters raised by the right hon. Lady in reverse order.

On the last matter, concerning Iran, the Foreign Secretary will in any case be answering questions next week. I think that it is next week. But if it is thought desirable that he should make a special statement on this subject, I shall certainly consider any such representations. [Interruption.] I thought that it was next week. If I am wrong, in any case I have already said that if the House would like to have a special statement from the Foreign Secretary on this subject I shall certainly consider it.

The second matter related to the business on 12 February. It is our hope that there will be longer than an hour and a half to discuss those EEC documents. It is certainly hoped that it will be a considerable time, because we do not believe that it is likely or necessary that the Credit Unions Bill will take the whole of the time. If that does not prove to be the case, I agree with the right hon. Lady that we should on some occasion try to provide extra time. If we discover that we do not get the extra or necessary time on that Monday, we shall have to make some other arrangement.

On the first question, I fully understand the right hon. Lady's desire that the Government should provide time for these matters. If the House looks at the way in which we have dealt with these questions, as I said last week, it is evident that the House has had an opportunity of raising these matters. There will be further opportunities of raising them next week. I think that the House is adapting itself to deal with this situation in a sensible manner.

Mr. Stoddart

Will my right hon. Friend consider setting time aside for a debate on industrial relations and the future of wage bargaining? That might then give us an opportunity to find out and reconcile the conflicting and often absurd statements made by the Opposition, because they could perhaps tell us exactly how they would solve the present problems without the use of troops, bayonets, and so on.

Mr. Foot

I fully accept that the House might wish to have a further opportunity of discussing many of these questions. But this issue figured prominently in the debate last week, when the House of Commons confirmed its support for the Government's approach to the matter.

Sir Anthony Meyer

In view of the concern expressed by Opposition Members about the use of volunteers to maintain essential services, will the Lord President find time to debate early-day motion 209 standing in my name and the names of several of my right hon. and hon. Friends, calling for the establishment of a corps of volunteers, under the control of the Home Secretary, to ensure the maintenance of essential services threatened by natural disaster or industrial action?

[That this House calls for the establishment of a Civil Emergency Force under the control of the Home Secretary consisting of part-time volunteers with the necessary skills, or ready to undergo the necessary training, to ensure the maintenance of essential public services disrupted by natural disaster or industrial action.]

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise any early time to discuss the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mrs. Bain

Will the Leader of the House clarify whether the Supply day debate on Tuesday will be wide enough to include the Scottish education service, where disruption is particularly worrying in view of the advanced time scale for its examination system?

Secondly, may I yet again ask whether the right hon. Gentleman envisages an early debate on the shipbuilding industry? Is he aware that since British Shipbuilders last week announced expected closures at Falmouth and Teesside there is a great deal of uncertainty throughout shipbuilding communities? Is not the best way to counteract rumour, speculation and denial for the House to have an early debate or at least a statement from the Department of Industry?

Mr. Foot

On the first matter, the subject is selected by the official Opposition. I should have thought that the questions that the hon. Lady wishes to raise would be in order during that debate.

On the second matter, I shall certainly consider whether it is desirable or necessary to have an early statement on the shipbuilding industry. I cannot promise it for next week, but I shall certainly look into the matter as the hon. Lady has raised it.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Lord President tell us whether the debate on the EEC budget on Monday week will be on a motion to take note? Will he also tell us which budget will be taken note of—the Council's or the Assembly's? Since they are in disagreement, is it not all the more important that we should have a motion setting out Ministers' duties concerning the Council? Will he also inform those of his hon. Friends who do not think that we should have such a motion that their action will be interpreted as wanting to send the power from this House to the EEC institutions?

Mr. Foot

On the first question, all these matters will be in order in the debate. As I have already indicated to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, we certainly envisage that there must be sufficient time to discuss the various aspects of the documents which will be before the House.

The second question, which my hon. Friend has raised on a number of occasions, I fully accept is an important matter that the House still has to resolve. The Procedure Committee has made a report on that subject. I hope that at a fairly early date we shall be able to debate that matter, too.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion 212, which has been signed by 112 right hon. and hon. Members, referring to the statement made last Thursday by the Secretary of State for Social Services when he strongly criticised the director of radiotherapy at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, Birmingham? Bearing in mind that a few moments ago the Secretary of State denied that he made that statement, and as his Minister of State on Tuesday confirmed that he made it and strongly supported it, would it not be sensible to have the Secretary of State come to the House next week to make a statement so that he can, preferably, withdraw his remarks, which have done great harm to the National Health Service in Birmingham, and clarify matters to the House, because there has been considerable confusion all round?

[That this House regrets that the Secretary of State for Social Services is not prepared to withdraw his remarks dissociating himself from the Director of Radiotherapy at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham despite the fact that over 100 doctors and nurses at the hospital have confirmed Mr. William Bond was right to state that cancer patients' lives were at risk because they were sent home as a result of the National Union of Public Employee' action; further regrets this slur on Mr. Bond's professional reputation; and believes doctors rather than union officials know when patients' lives are at risk.]

Mr. Foot

I think that my right hon. Friend successfully disposed of that matter this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If Opposition Members wish to put down any further questions on the subject, the Order Paper is open to them.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Lord President, as a matter of urgency, find time to debate early-day motion 202, standing in the names of Labour, Liberal and Plaid Cymru Members, which relates to the use of the Local Government Act 1972 by Conservative groups on South Glamorgan and Gwent county councils to use ratepayers' money for political purposes?

[That this House deplores the proposed misuse of ratepayers' money by Gwent and South Glamorgan county councils who intend to spend it on literature advocating a 'No' vote in the referendum on the Welsh Assembly; supports the assertion by the Secretary of State for Wales that the use of the Local Government Act 1972 in this way is extremely dubious, and opens the door to possibilities of further misappropriation of funds; and calls on these two county councils to reconsider their unfortunate decisions and to leave the resolution of the Referendum to the good sense of the residents of their two counties.]

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on the subject. However, it certainly seems a peculiar way to use ratepayers' money, and I think that the ratepayers might have something to say about it.

Mr. Rooker

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 211?

[That this House does not believe that it was the intention of Parliament in passing the Social Security Pensions Act to deprive men and women of their jobs simply because they were forced to give their incorrect age to their employer in order to obtain employment; regards the intention of the Government to inform all employers of the age of those workers who have reached retirement age as an invasion of individual privacy which will cause untold human misery to the individuals and their families; and therefore calls upon the Government urgently to bring forward an Order amending employers' contribution payments before the end of the current financial year so that this information is not divulged and to include arrangements for any such worker who wishes to remain at work to continue to pay national insurance contributions without extra benefit or refund.]

Will he give time to debate that matter next week in order that the House may decide whether it was the intention in 1975 to pass an Act which this year will give the Government power to tell employers in this country the ages of their employees? If so, people who in the past have had to tell fibs about their ages in order to get jobs will face a difficult problem this year if they reach genuine retirement age, because they will be forced out of their jobs. The reason why they were forced to tell fibs in the first place was the result of the age discrimination practised by this society on people over the ages of 40 or 50 who found difficulty in getting jobs.

Mr. Foot

I accept everything that my hon. Friend says on the subject. I agree that it is a question that the House might wish to raise and discuss. I know that my hon. Friend says that time is short, but he is an extremely ingenious Member and I should be surprised if he did not find a further opportunity of raising the subject.

Mr. Rost

I believe that the Leader of the House is ducking his responsibilities in the most disgraceful way by failing to provide at least one day—preferably two—of Government time to discuss the increasing chaos from which the nation is suffering. Has the Leader of the House not noticed that there has now been more than one month of increasing shambles and that every statement has had to be squeezed and bullied out of Ministers on the Front Bench? No Minister has volunteered to make a statement about anything. It is time that the Leader of the House stopped ducking his responsibilities and allowed us a proper debate.

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman has just made a totally false statement. If anyone outside this House is inclined to believe him—I do not suppose that there are many who will—it will be misleading and injurious to the reputation of the House. My hon. and right hon. Friends volunteered statements on a series of occasions during the past two or three weeks. Statements have been made in answer to private notice questions but more generally Ministers have volunteered statements—for example, the statements made day after day by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that have served the House extremely well. The troubles are serious and the House wishes to be informed of them. Anybody who believes that the House has not been so informed cannot have been applying his mind properly to the business of the House.

Mr. William Hamilton

May I make a novel suggestion to my right hon. Friend? Will he arrange, as quickly as possible, preferably next week, an early debate on the problems of the low-paid in juxtaposition with a debate on the Peachey Corporation? That would show the greed, venal deceit and corruption in the City, as represented by the Tory Party, as against the problems of the poor, with which the Government are most concerned.

Mr. Foot

I am not sure about the juxtaposition of debates. It is a matter of interest that during the whole of the period the only demands made upon myself and the Government for discussions and answers about the low-paid have come from Labour Memers. The Government are fully aware of the serious concern that hon. Members feel for the low-paid. We shall continue to put our minds to the subject. A debate may be held at some stage on the subject, although it did enter into recent debates.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Is the Lord President aware that it is well over two years since the annual Welsh day debate was held? Has he abandoned the practice of holding that debate? Is he further aware that many of the services that are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales have been badly disrupted by the present industrial disputes? Will he therefore arrange for his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to make a statement to the House next week, so that we may have the opportunity of questioning him?

Mr. Foot

I will examine the last suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman. No proposition has been put forward for abandoning the Welsh day debate, and none would be accepted. I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman taking an interest in Wales. I hope that he will vote "Yes" at the referendum and assist the Government.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 187?

[That this House is strongly of the opinion that films which are categorised as 'X' films at cinemas and which it is prohibited to show to persons under the age of 18 years should not be shown on television.]

The motion seeks to stop the showing on television of films of sex and violence that are regarded as unsuitable for cinema showing to persons under the age of 18. The motion has been signed by 119 right hon. and hon. Members from all parties in the House who are concerned about the evils that the showing of these films may bring. Will the Leader of the House give us an early date in order that the matter can be debated?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a date, although the number of Members who have signed the motion shows that there is considerable interest in the matter. It is a question for the broadcasting authorities, and if the House wishes to alter their decision there will have to be a debate. There are other opportunities for raising debates. Private Members have extensive rights and I believe this to be a suitable proposition for the use of those rights.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is the Leader of the House aware that the main anxiety felt on Iran is not only the safety of British citizens but the potential large-scale loss of exports and jobs? Will he therefore reconsider whether it is appropriate for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement as requested by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? I believe that it would be better for the Secretary of State for Defence or one of the Industry Ministers to make such a statement. The matter is urgent, and I hope that a statement will be forth-coming next week.

Mr. Foot

I accept the urgency of a statement. However, I have a sense of priorities and I must give prior consideration to the request of the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Christopher Price

Has my right hon. Friend studied the House of Lords' judgment that appeared this morning exonerating the magazines and newspapers that printed the name of Colonel Johnstone last year? The judgment found against the Attorney-General, at considerable cost to the taxpayer. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the judgment is an excuse for the Committee of Privileges to get on quickly with its deliberations, so that we can have a debate to clear up the matter?

Mr. Foot

I have not yet had the opportunity of studying the judgment of the House of Lords; therefore, it would be wrong for me to comment upon it. I do not believe that while a Committee of this House is sitting I should comment upon the speed or slowness with which it conducts its affairs.

Mr. Aitken

Does the Lord President recall that under the terms of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976 the Government are currently preparing to bring in a statutory code of conduct that will deal largely with trade union matters that appear in the press? Does he believe that higher priority should be placed on statutory codes of conduct for picketing, including picketing in the National Health Service?

Mr. Foot

I recall the debates when the hon. Gentleman raised those matters. However, I am doubtful whether the second question that he raises can be dealt with satisfactorily by statutory means.

Miss Richardson

Now that the Home Secretary is looking urgently into the practice revealed by the case of the Indian lady who arrived at London airport to be subjected to an examination to discover whether she was virgo intacta—[Interruption.] This is not a laughing matter. When the Home Secretary is ready to report, will the Leader of the House find time for a discussion so that the House may let its feeling be known on this degrading practice?

Mr. Foot

I agree with my hon. Friend that this is no laughing matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated that the Home Secretary is now urgently studying the report. I agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend but I do not know whether there should be a debate.

Mr. Marten

I do not believe that the Leader of the House is aware that the EEC documents that are to be debated on Monday week are of fundamental constitutional and financial importance. I believe that shovelling them on after a Bill about credit union is not treating the Common Market with the respect that it deserves. Will he therefore bring the debate on as first Order of the Day, as the Bill is not of great importance?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise to do that, but I acknowledge the importance of the matter. The House will want time to discuss it. If we find that there is insufficient time under the proposed arrangements, we shall re-examine the matter.

Mr. Heffer

Together with other hon. Members from Merseyside, I have been requesting for a considerable time a discussion on the Floor of this Chamber on the problems of Merseyside. In view of the fact that there are now 100,000 unemployed on Merseyside, 2,500 declared redundancies at Dunlop, and another 1,000 at Plessey today, and in view of the fact that most of these are private enterprise companies, is it not time for the Government to bring a great deal of pressure to bear, through the National Enterprise Board, so that something may be done about these problems?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have an early debate so that the subject can be discussed in depth? If it cannot be done immediately, could it not be done in the week when we are due to have a recess as a result of nonsense such as the referendums in Scotland and Wales, especially as there are real problems in areas such as Merseyside which need the fullest discussion?

Mr. Foot

I agree with my hon. Friend that the position on Merseyside is very serious. I fully appreciate his reasons for expressing his concern. I cannot make any promise about an early debate on the subject, but I shall look into his representations. There are other parts of the country which have similar claims, although I am not in any way seeking to diminish the significance of the problems on Merseyside.

Mr. Blaker

It is quite right that Ministers should regularly make statements in the House about the industrial disputes that we are suffering, but does not the Leader of the House realise that that is not enough? What is required is a debate, preferably over two days, so that Back Benchers can ventilate and properly debate the anxieties and difficulties of their constituents. The right hon. Gentleman used to have a reputation as a defender of the rights of Back Benchers. Would it not be nice if he did something to recapture that reputation?

Mr. Foot

In reply to an earlier Opposition suggestion to the effect that the Government had not volunteered statements, I tried to correct that impression, because it is completely false. The Government, throughout the whole of this period, have never been backward in ensuring that the fullest information was given to the House. It is perfectly natural that the right hon. Lady and other Opposition Members should press for the Government to provide time. Even so, it is quite wrong for the impression to be given that the House of Commons has not had full opportunities to debate this matter. We had a full debate last week, on a motion chosen by the Opposition. The House of Commons repudiated the Opposition's view and upheld the view of the Government.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have already risen. Mr. Cryer.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend clarify his previous answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) concerning a debate on the Peachey report? My right hon. Friend did not indicate whether he was prepared to make time available. The report exposes the seamy side of capitalism and exposes shortcomings in company law.

As the Companies Bill is going through the House, is not an early opportunity for debating this report necessary, in order that we can put through legislation to stop the kind of behaviour, which has outraged all decent people throughout the country? Will my right hon. Friend accept that there are many company reports which are gathering dust, which have never been debated, and which this House should examine in detail?

Mr. Foot

There are such reports. I am not sure whether any of the issues raised in the Peachey report could be dealt with by any amendment of the Companies Bill that is now going through the House. It is obviously a matter that will be studied both in Committee and on Report. This is an illustration of the way in which the House of Commons provides many opportunities for raising such questions.

Mr. Michael Latham

Are we to have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper soon, or are the Government waiting until they have announced their further cuts?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is eager to hear the Expenditure Committee's comments. I am sure that he is as much on tenterhooks as I am to hear what the Committee has to say. It might be regarded as discourteous if we were to have the debate before we had the report of the Committee.

Mr. Grocott

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the very important White Paper dealing with local government's organic change. In view of the tremendous effects that this would have on very many people who work in local government, and that it is the first time that we have had an opportunity to put right the damage to ratepayers inflicted by the Conservative Government's reorganisation of local government, will he agree that we should debate this very important subject very soon?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise it very soon, but I fully accept that the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is one of major importance for ensuring a restoration of democratic rights which were taken away by the Conservative Party. My own city of Plymouth had essential rights taken away by the Conservative Party. It is eager to get them back. I am glad to say that this is going ahead. I should be happy to have such a debate and, indeed, to participate in it if I had a chance to be called.

Mr. Steen

I assume that the Lord President has seen early-day motion 217, entitled "Embalming of Dead Bodies", in my name and in the names of a number of my hon. Friends.

[That this House believes that the death grant should be temporarily raised by at least a further £18 to meet the additional costs to relatives of deceased persons for embalming bodies which cannot be buried or cremated as a result of the current strike of grave diggers and crematorium operators.]

Is he aware that today in Liverpool there are 278 corpses unburied and that, because of the risk of deterioration, the family of each of the deceased is having to pay at least £18 for an embalming process? Will the Lord President ensure that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services comes to the House and tells the House whether, as he pays out benefits to strikers' families, he will pay out a special embalming fee to the family of each deceased?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that the method suggested by the hon. Gentleman is the best way to deal with the subject. The whole House listened most carefully to what was said yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and I think that he will be coming to the House to make a further statement on the subject. He has stressed to the House and to the whole country the seriousness with which the Government view the position.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his remarks about the need for a debate on the Peachey report, taking into account that many of us would like to know just who organised the parties at No. 10? We all understand that there are such things as bottle parties, but it is quite another thing to have people dragging cases of champagne behind them when they go to these functions.

Would it not also be appropriate to give an opportunity to the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) to come to the House and explain his role in the affair—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows that criticism of another hon. Member—[Interruption.] It sounded to me very much like criticism. It did not sound like a compliment, at any rate. The hon. Member suggested that the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) might come to the House to explain. I think that those were the words. Hon. Members may express criticism of the personal conduct of another hon. Member only on the basis of a motion before the House

Mr. Skinner

Yes, Mr. Speaker, so that the right hon. Gentleman can come and explain his role in the affair—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will not repeat that the hon. Gentleman is not to cast a reflection by implication upon any right hon. or hon. Member of the House

Mr. Skinner

The point has to be made, Mr. Speaker, that if there has been any reflection cast upon the right hon. Gentleman initially, it has been done by the authors of the Peachey report, and I am suggesting that an opportunity should be given to him to come along—

Mr. Speaker

Order: The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. Mr. Grylls.

Mr. Grylls

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 175, signed by hon. Members of all parties, asking the Secretary of State for Industry to publish British Shipbuilders' corporate plan?

[That this House calls on the Government to place in the Library of the House a copy of British Shipbuilders' Corporate Plan.]

It is a matter of immense importance to hon. Members in every part of the House, as it concerns the future employment in and size of the industry. Will he arrange for a debate on this very important matter?

Mr. Foot

I have already replied to a question on this matter. The British Shipbuilders' corporate plan was received at the end of December and is now being carefully examined. The plan contains commercially confidential material and cannot, as such, be made public. My right hon. Friend will, however, be considering, as part of his review of the plan, what information can be made available to the House. I have already indicated that I shall see how soon that statement can be made.

Mr. Loyden

Returning to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on the question of a debate on Merseyside or North-West unemployment, does my right hon. Friend agree that as most firms to which he referred are in the private sector—and the National Enterprise Board was set up for the purpose of assisting in those situations where private sector industry had failed—we should now review the role of the NEB? Now that there is an amending Bill before the House, could we not take the opportunity to discuss the role of the NEB in the problems of regional unemployment?

Mr. Foot

I shall fully take into account what was said by my hon. Friends. It is highly desirable that further measures should be taken to deal with the extremely serious unemployment situation in Liverpool. However, considerable measures have been taken by the Government already and considerable amounts of public money have been devoted to that purpose. That does not mean to say that there is not much more to be done. My hon. Friend must appreciate that a considerable amount has been done already.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), is the Leader of the House aware that, unfortunately, my right hon. Friend is unwell and in hospital? I am sure that we all wish him a speedy recovery.

As to the Peachey report, would it not be prudent to remember the old adage that people in glass houses should not throw stones?

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) began his question by indicating a reference to No. 10. He was not drawn to order for that. An hon. Gentleman has just made another reflection upon the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). He was not drawn to order for that. Surely justice in this House should be even-handed.

Mr. Speaker

It should be, I quite agree. However, the hon. Gentleman should be factually correct. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) did not, in my hearing, mention No. 10. He referred to bottles of champagne. No name was mentioned. I waited until a name of a right hon. Member of the House was mentioned. I would have done the same for anyone, as the House knows.

Mr. Molloy

May I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House if he would reconsider the request from the Leader of the Opposition and other members of the Opposition that we should debate the current situation of the lower-paid workers in local goverment and the hospital services? As we understand it from speeches from Opposition Members, if there is any settlement that might result in an increase of wages the Opposition will oppose it, as it will increase rates. If the Government give a subsidy, that will increase taxes. The Opposition appear to have no solution. If there were a debate, we could gain some idea of what precisely the Opposition mean. At one time they do not seem to mind increases for local government workers as long as there is no increase in rates and as long as the Government do not give any subsidy or increase taxes. We want to know what other miracle the Opposition have in mind.

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend is mistaken in this. I have not received any request from the Opposition for a debate on the low-paid. I have heard from them only on the subject of what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) in the debate last week, when he flatly turned down even the proposal for the £3.50.

Mr. Brooke

I entirely understand that you, Mr. Speaker, were not able to accord us a debate on the refuse situation in South Westminster earlier this week. However, would the Leader of the House ensure that the Departments of his Government make a small substitute contribution to the solution of the problem by moving their garbage to the Westminster emergency dumps, like all other ratepayers?

Mr. Ron Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Department of Trade report into Peachey indicated examples of more being spent in one night on champagne than an ambulance worker can earn in a year? Does he accept that there are many Government supporters who are appalled and outraged by this report? We believe that there should be a debate and that any Members of Parliament who have been involved should explain how they became involved.

Mr. Foot

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. However, I cannot promise an early debate on the subject.

Mr. Canavan

Will the Leader of the House reconsider what he said? It would be ideal to give the House the opportunity to discuss the need for a better, stricter code of conduct for Members of Parliament and Ministers. The revelations in the report about the free gift schemes for certain Members of Parliament, including former Ministers, is in danger of bringing Parliament into disrepute, especially at a time when the trade unions are under attack for defending the rights of low-paid workers, many of whom earn less in one year than the amount that was spent on one extravagant champagne junket at No. 10 Downing Street.

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friends and others may wish to debate that and other aspects of the report. However, I cannot offer the immediate prospect of a debate on the subject. Some aspects of the report no doubt arise in other fields as well, as was indicated by my hon. Friend who originally raised the matter.